Orange County wants to ban electronic cigarettes from bars and restaurants over concerns about potentially toxic secondhand vapors and the growing number of teens choosing to “vape.”
The ban, if approved, would prohibit the use of e-cigarettes in enclosed areas after Aug. 1. The Orange County Board of Health is accepting public comment from April 10 until a public hearing on April 27.
The proposed rule is similar to a 2010 state ban on cigarettes in bars, restaurants and lodging, Health Department spokeswoman Stacy Shelp said.
E-cigarettes use a battery and heating coil to convert liquid nicotine – “e-juice” – into a vapor that can be inhaled. The juice can contain propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, chemical flavorings or other contaminants that may not be listed. It disperses quickly, leaving only the smell of any flavorings used.
Studies of the short- and long-term effects are limited, especially on the effects of e-cigarettes on children, seniors and pregnant women. A 2013 study found e-cigarettes may contain fewer toxins than traditional cigarettes but questioned the potential harm from e-juice chemicals.
Some chemicals are toxic to cells, experts say, and smoking e-cigarettes can lead to acute eye and upper respiratory irritation, cough, less lung function and chronic chest tightness and wheezing. Other studies suggest e-cigarettes may affect brain development in adolescents.
E-cigarettes are not federally regulated, but the Federal Drug Administration is considering whether to treat them as a tobacco product. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends employers ban e-cigarettes from workplaces.
Vaping also is popular with adults trying to cut back or quit smoking altogether. Data shows 15 percent of current smokers and 22 percent of recent former smokers use e-cigarettes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said cessation claims are unsupported.
But more concerning is the number of young people choosing e-cigarettes, officials say, and data showing e-cigarettes also drive an increase in tobacco product use among youths.
A preliminary report from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools’ 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows 37 percent of local high school students had used e-cigarettes. Roughly 18 percent reported smoking e-cigarettes in the last 30 days, it found.
The findings are backed by preliminary data from the 2015 N.C. Youth Tobacco Survey, which showed e-cigarette use rose 888 percent since 2011, with 16.8 percent of high school students reporting last year that they had used e-cigarettes in the last 30 days.
While North Carolina law limits retail sales to adults, minors can easily get products online, experts say.
Orange County’s public places, including parks, sidewalks and bus stops, have been smoke-free since 2013. Offenders usually get a warning but can be fined $25 for individual occurrences.
E-cigarette use already is banned from tobacco-free public schools and government buildings; the Chapel Hill Public Library also prohibits e-cigarette use. UNC has its own policy that prohibits smoking in state-owned buildings and vehicles and within 100 feet of university buildings.
Smoking is allowed in private homes and cars, tobacco shops, designated smoking areas and private clubs.
The proposed ban is part of a statewide trend. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services notes more than three dozen cities and counties, including Wake, Alamance, Chatham and Durham, have approved e-cigarette bans in the last few years.
Join the conversation
The Orange County Board of Health has five ways you can share your thoughts about a proposed ban on e-cigarette use in restaurants and bars:
▪ Take an online survey at svy.mk/1RXPeIr
▪ Call the telephone message line at 919-245-2480
▪ Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
▪ Send a letter to the Orange County Health Department, Attn: Proposed E-Cig Rule, 300 W. Tryon St., Hillsborough, NC 27278
▪ Attend the public hearing at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 27, on the third floor of the Whitted Building, 300 W. Tryon St., Hillsborough.